Identity Politics: Separating Yourself From Blackness
Many Black people on their path to self-discovery find themselves at a stand-still in which their race, culture, and navigation of the world as a Black person leads them to evaluate their perception of Blackness and what it means to identify as a Black person. There comes a point where identifying as Black seems more of a personal feeling than an immutable characteristic. Not every Black person struggles with this, but many do. Some examples of how some Black people separate themselves from Blackness are:
- Racial Identity: “I’m not Black, I’m a person.”, “I’m not African-American, I’m an American.”
- Other-ing Certain Groups/ “Types” of Black People: “I’m not like those other Black people.”, “I’m not ratchet, I’m classy.”, “I’m an educated Black person, I don’t speak Ebonics.”
- Denouncing Blackness While Upholding Other Races as Better: “I’m not Black, I’m mixed.”, “I’m not full Black, I’m a quarter ______.”
Utilizing any of these methods of separating yourself from Blackness or identifying as Black will not change the reality that you are Black nor will it change the oppression or experiences Black people deal with because you’re Black. But understanding why some of us make the decision to separate our identities from Blackness is important to understanding the society and social sphere we live in.
The issue lies in the idea that Blackness (of or anything associated with Black people or Black culture) is ugly, correlated with lower-socioeconomic status, stupidity, unscrupulous and illegal behavior, and the literal bottom of the hierarchy of beauty standards. When you make your race an irrelevant component, it doesn’t change how people view you. We’ve been coded to believe that race matters by a white supremacist system. Therefore we act within those parameters to navigate, survive, and dismantle it. So your race does matter. Being Black matters. Regardless of if you claim Blackness, Blackness claims you. But America doesn’t claim you. To reference Toni Morrison, American means white, the rest of us have to hyphenate. So, utilizing the “no labels” defense actually perpetuates the idea that oppressors and oppressive power structures making it difficult to exist as a marginalized person do not matter because not having labels eliminates our history, our reality, accountability for oppressing and dehumanizing marginalized groups, and the privilege of those in power.
Blackness is not what institutionalized racism codes it to be. White supremacist thinking shaped Blackness to be a concept opposite of Whiteness (Of or associated to White people; i.e. greatness, educated, leaders, saviors, innocent, worthy, beautiful, etc.) in which it defiled our actual cultures within Blackness (because we’re not all the same people nor do we come from the same places) and ignoring our individuality within the culture we create and embody. Therefore, Black culture consists of more than what white people and even Black people think it does.
Our culture is dynamic, innovative, and rolls deeper than deep. From creating most “slang” words and phrases, to creating most musical origins (i.e. pop, rock and roll, hip hop, jazz, R&B, etc.), to having the most musical influence- we are more than just one invention, one ignorant stereotype, or one note. We are the creators of everything cool. We have holidays, we have cultural family traditions, we have values, we have different ancestry and nationalities, but we are all inextricably linked. White and non-Black people of color will appropriate and co-opt break-dancing, rap, hip-hop, our hairstyles, our fashion, and our creative language but will still denounce us as unworthy and unintelligent thugs whilst not crediting us for the culture we’ve created. So when you say “I don’t act like I’m Black.” or “I’m not ratchet like those Black people.” You’re separating yourself from other Black people to elevate your status as “one of the good ones” when there’s no reason to be better than another Black person because we’re all WORTHY. Elevating your status as “one of the good ones” also takes away from the culture we’re all apart of creating and embracing, which is complicated and expanded by gender, sexuality, and class. You’re making a distinction in the hierarchy of Blackness that you are different from the bad Black people. There is no prize for being the best Black person you can be according to white people. And although you may be able to navigate a racist society easier, it doesn’t detract from the reality of your Blackness. Regardless of your socioeconomic status, education level, or ability to talk in formal English, you’re Black the same way they are.
The real question should be ‘Why is there’s a specific way to be Black?’ Why is it important to not be seen the way other Black people are? Do you feel ashamed of them more than you are ashamed of the racist society that treats those Black people as animals? When will Black people be allowed to be mediocre, lazy by choice, not in the top 90th percentile, and make bad decisions but still be respected and seen as a worthy human being? When you say those Black people are ____, you’ve put yourself on a level above their Blackness not understanding that you will never separate yourself from Blackness.
People who denounce Blackness to uplift another race they’re mixed with, often respond with “I’m half white and half Black, they’re both apart of who I am.” or “I’m mixed with Black, white, and Native American.” You shouldn’t necessarily deny parts of who you are, but it’s important to question and critique if there is something wrong with being just Black. If you were only allowed to claim one part of your racial makeup, would Blackness be something you avoid?
It’s important to really self-check your internalization of anti-Blackness and racism because it’s institutionalized to believe that Black is the one thing you never want to be. It’s instilled in us that Black is the bottom of the well, so if you are Black, you’re told to have a beauty characteristic that’s valued to offset that ugliness. For example, have straighter hair or looser curls; have lighter eyes; have smaller and softer facial features; have big lips but have a thin nose; have lighter skin; have a smaller frame; have a smaller butt; etc. Being just Black is never enough. So I ask you, do you really value your Blackness or do you find ways to make it more palatable? If you do try to make it more palatable, question and critique that. Your worthiness is based upon how you view yourself but evaluate what institutional and interpersonal components have shaped your perception of what is worthy. Unlearning self-hate that’s been encoded in government, science, media, and religion is extremely difficult and very emotional. It’s important for ourselves and for our communities that we as Black people come into consciousness about our greatness as being Black and about our undeserving marginalized status in this world as Black people. And that means working toward being proud of who you are enough to claim it. We are Black, and that is more than enough.